Just before Christmas I was kindly sent a signed copy of this lovely book. A collection of wonderful poems to help us through some of life’s challenges. As some of you may know I love poetry and find it soothing and powerful. I dip into my poetry books when I need a mood boost or to sit with my feelings, but feel comforted, knowing that I’m not the only one to feel that way. Which is what this book is meant to do. There’s a wonderful selection of poems, old friends and some new faces too. Whatever you’re going through, poetry can help remind us to keep going. You’ll be ok.
A wise and soulful poetry prescription for every season and every mood. Words can be a way to unlock our feelings. Poetry allows us to be in touch with our emotions and explore our vulnerability. You’ll Never Walk Alone is a collection of the kind of inspirational texts – mainly poems – that can accompany us, whatever we are feeling, from sorrow to delight. These are poems that allow us to enjoy a full range of emotions. The poems are organised according to the season in which they ‘belong’: we all have seasons of our minds, be they wintery and dark, or more spring-like and hopeful. With this book by your side, you will feel comforted when times are tough and cheered when they are joyful. The texts are introduced by Rachel Kelly, writer and mental health advocate, whose gentle voice will show you how each poem might become your friend and become part of your emotional reality. Poetry can be a new tool for wellbeing. And one that means you’ll never walk alone.
Rachel Kelly is a keynote speaker, bestselling writer and mental health campaigner. She shares her experience of depression and evidence-based strategies that have helped her recover, and has long been an advocate for the therapeutic power of poetry. She runs Healing Words poetry workshops for mental health charities, at festivals and in prisons, and has been a judge for the Koestler Poetry Prize and the Rethink Mental Illness Poetry Awards. Her passion for poetry led to her becoming the co-founder of the iF poetry app and co-editor of iF: A Treasury of Poetry for Almost Every Possibility (Canongate, 2012). Her memoir Black Rainbow: How words healed me -my journey through depression describes how poetry was an integral part of her recovery. Her critically acclaimed books include The Happy Kitchen, Walking on Sunshine and Singing in the Rain and have been published in over 10 countries. Rachel has spoken all over the world from Delhi to Sydney, America and across the UK. She is also a well-known media commentator and former Times journalist as well as an official ambassador for mental health charities Rethink Mental Illness, SANE, The Counselling Foundation and Head Talks. Rachel lives in London with her husband, Sebastian, and their children.
Thank you to Rachel, the publisher and Midas PR for my copy. I’ll treasure it.
I’m a big fan of the amazing charity The Reading Agency, who do so much to promote and encourage Reading. They now run World Book Night, an event I’ve been shouting about since it first started and now they’ve developed a new amazing concept – Reading Well.
So what is Reading Well?
Reading Well has been developed by national charity The Reading Agency in partnership with Libraries Connected and the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) Cymru, and is delivered with public libraries.
There are 5 Reading Well booklists which support people to understand and manage their health and wellbeing using helpful reading. Over 3 million Reading Well books have been borrowed from libraries since 2013. Find out about other Reading Well booklists at your local library or visit reading-well.org.uk
Reading Well for teens supports the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers, providing helpful information, advice and support to help them better understand their feelings, handle difficult experiences and boost confidence. The list has been developed as an update to the 2016 Reading Well for Young People (“Shelf Help”) list and is focused on supporting teens’ mental health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic context.
The booklist is targeted at teenagers (13-18) and includes a range of reading levels and formats to support less confident readers and encourage engagement. Some of the recommended books suggest useful self-help techniques; there are also personal stories, graphic formats, and fiction. Alongside the books are a selection of quality assured age-appropriate digital resources. The books have been chosen by young people, leading health professionals and library staff. Our book selection panel included colleagues from Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing, British Psychological Society, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, NHS England, Mind, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and the School Library Association.
I was kindly sent two fantastic books from the Reading Well for Teens reading lists: The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Pollen and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I had read A Monster Calls before, ages ago and definitely needed a re-read and I hadn’t read The Year I Didn’t Eat so that was new to me. The reading lists themselves are very accessible and have a huge range of books on lots of different topics that might affect their readers. All of them can be found online, in book shops and most importantly, in your local library and hopefully in a school or college library too.
Fourteen-year-old Max Howarth is living with anorexia. With the help of his therapist and his supportive, but flawed, family, he’s trying his best to maintain his health. But things spiral out of control, and his eating disorder threatens to isolate him from everyone he loves. Beautifully crafted and honestly written, this debut YA novel tells the story of one boy’s year-long journey toward recovery.
In most ways, Max is like any other teenager. He’s dealing with family drama, crushes, and high school-all while trying to have fun, play video games, and explore his hobbies. But Max is also living with anorexia and finds it impossible to be honest with his loved ones-they just don’t understand what he’s going through.
Starting at Christmas, a series of triggering events disrupt Max’s progress toward recovery, sending him down a year-long spiral of self-doubt and dangerous setbacks. With no one to turn to, Max journals his innermost thoughts and feelings, writing to “Ana,” the name he’s given his anorexia. While that helps for a while, Ana’s negative voice grows, amplifying his fears.
When Max gets an unusual present from his older brother, a geocache, it becomes a welcome distraction from his problems. He hides it in the forest near their house and soon gets a message from the mysterious “E.” Although Max is unsure of the secret writer’s identity, they build a bond, and it’s comforting to finally have someone to confide in.As Max’s eating disorder pulls him further away from his family and friends, this connection keeps him going, leading him back to the people who love and support him.
Writing from his own experiences with anorexia, Samuel Pollen’s The Year I Didn’t Eat is a powerful and uplifting story about recovery and the connections that heal us.
My thoughts: while I didn’t have anorexia, I did struggle with a different eating disorder in my late teens and early twenties so Max’s story resonated with me. Based on the author’s own illness, this was powerful and moving and I can totally see why this made the Reading Well booklist.
Eating disorders are increasingly common in young men and teenage boys, as well as still being something many young women struggle with. They’re both a physical and mental illness, and require a holistic approach to treat. They can be really scary and as long as society continues to generate certain body types, they’ll persist.
But The Year I Didn’t Eat offers that most important thing – hope. You can recover, recovery is real and you will be able to be ok again. When you’re in the midst of an eating disorder, or any illness that also impacts you psychologically, it can seem impossible to believe you’ll be well again.
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.
My thoughts: I have been extremely lucky in that I never had to deal with the pain of losing a parent at a young age (both of mine are still here) but I cannot imagine how awful that would be. Having seen some close friends lose theirs even in my twenties, it feels horrific. This incredibly, tremendously moving, powerful and iconic book deserves its place on the Reading Well list for its ability to understand that terrible pain and fear and interpret it for the teen audience. I imagine it to be a wonderfully comforting read if you are dealing with the potential loss of a parent, knowing you’re not alone, that someone does understand, must provide at least a little comfort.
I have to admit I read both books with tissues at my side because they brought back, for me, some of the turmoil of being a teenager and young adult. They made me feel less alone, definitely, despite being published after my teens, and long after I left the expected audience. I really hope lots of people access the Reading Well Reading lists and find something that speaks to them there.
A massive thank you to The Reading Agency and their partner Four Communications for sending me the books and providing the images and some of the text above.
A candid book that uses a mix of colloquial chat, peer and personal experience, and expert advice to talk about tackling mental illness as part of the generation so often poked fun at for having feelings – and who often call themselves out for it, too.
A record-breaking number of anti-depressants are being prescribed each year. While positive steps are being taken and we are speaking more about our problems, in this new age of having conversations about mental health, everyone and their neighbour has a ‘miracle cure’ to throw at those of us who are struggling. There’s an enormous gap in the knowledge and understanding of what depression is and isn’t – not least in that it doesn’t look the same on every person.
Exploring the science behind mental illness and its treatment, and including stories from a number of sufferers of depression and anxiety disorders, Get a Grip, Love provides a witty, razor-sharp exploration of mental health, and a no-nonsense guide that explains where the advice to ‘go for a run’, ’stay off social media’ or ‘make some new friends’ comes from. It separates the facts from the fiction about what could work, speaks openly about how it feels to live with a mental health disorder, and demonstrates that it’s ok to feel the way that we do when we’re struggling, and that we certainly don’t need to get a grip.
Funny, irreverent, and understandable, Get a Grip, Love recognises that depression sucks, but that together, we can get through it.
I have depression and have been living with it for some time now so it was interesting to see how someone else deals with their own illness and finds a way through it.
I dipped in and out of this book, not all of it was easy reading when it feels a little close to the bone but it was an interesting and informative read.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.
The part of the brain most heavily associated with mental health, memory, emotion and mood is called the hippocampus; the biological name for the seahorse. It is the unusual seahorse-like shape of the hippocampus that has led to its evocative name. Just as the seahorse charms the depths of oceans, our own hippocampus, when supported and nurtured, can help to enchant our own lives. Worryingly, there are an increasing number of scientific papers linking problems with the hippocampus to depression, in particular, the shrinking or failure to regrow this part of the brain after prolonged stress. Depression, anxiety and mood disorders are often seen as entirely psychological in cause. However, more and more research is highlighting that chronic health issues, poor diet and lifestyle choices can, and will, negatively impact our vulnerable hippocampus, and consequently, our mental health.
Personalised nutritionist Ray Griffiths examines how we can modify our dietary and lifestyle choices to nourish our brain and hippocampus. These choices can help to cushion us from the harm we may encounter as we navigate the challenges of modern everyday life. This nourishment is absolutely vital, as every day our hippocampus can potentially regrow 700 brand new neurons, but it needs a huge amount of assistance to do so. Nourishment for the hippocampus can come from not just diet but also from balanced gut bacteria, social connection, exercise, an outdoors environment, music and dance. Learning how to support your brain health begins with what you eat.
Ray Griffiths MSc is a Registered Nutritionist and Lecturer and hails from the South of England, living on the borders of Essex and Suffolk. He has been researching and practicing nutrition for 20 years and lecturing for over 10 years. His lectures and webinars have covered diverse subjects such as: cancer and nutrition, chronic fatigue, depression, cardiovascular health, neurodegeneration, MS and ageing. Ray has a background in Engineering and likes to apply a similar style systems philosophy to nutrition and biochemistry – using this approach to challenge and greatly expand existing ideas and concepts. He is a keen water skier, was once a professional Speedway rider. He enjoys Pre-Rapaelite art and his favourite author is the American poet Robert Bly.
My thoughts: I’ve had depression since my teens and am interested in different theories around treating and managing it in the long term. I currently take medication to manage it but if there was another way I’d be open to potentially trying it.
I liked that Griffiths was looking at depression as a condition that is affected by and effects the body as a whole, I know for me if my chronic pain condition is worse then so will my mental health be.
As a nutritionist Griffiths focuses on how what we eat impacts our physical and mental wellbeing. The importance of healthy gut bacteria is something the general public is increasingly aware of, and he writes about how each thing links together very well.
This was certainly a very interesting read, something I will definitely be discussing with my doctors in terms of how I can tweak my diet to support a happier, healthier brain.
*I was kindly gifted this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour.
The Buddy Box from The Blurt Foundation is designed to help people dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It’s basically a hug in a box. And this month’s comes with a little summer sun. 🌞
Fruit seems to be the theme too, with pineapples and watermelon popping up on the box itself and inside.
Inside are some bright, sunny treats to help you get through July even when inside your brain it’s more like November (that may just be me).
There is a very cute notebook with a fox on it, I love notebooks and own about a gazillion of them, so this is welcome.
A pineapple scented air freshener. I don’t have a car but my wardrobe/beauty cupboard will look very snazzy (and smell sweet) with this.
Fruit Fix Pomegranate & Blueberry face mask. I love a good face mask, deep cleaning all the crap out of my skin so I will be slapping this on for a Netflix session.
#365 Days of Selfcare challenge card and post-its. Which you can join in with. #365daysofselfcare on Twitter and Instagram.
Personal note from the Blurt team on a fun card, which I will be adding to my inspiration wall.
Finally, I saved the most fun till last. As you may already know, I am a stationery nerd. And I love quirky pens and pencils. This pencil is a superhero. This pencil has a cape.
While the crappy winter weather definitely batters on my hatches, summer can be just as hard. When the sun’s shining and fun is being planned, we need to still be looking after our mental health. It’s hard to be “on” all the time and it can feel impossible to tell people you’re feeling bad when the sun’s out and you’re supposed to be jolly.
The Blurt team know that and I am telling you, self-care, whatever form it takes, isn’t selfish. If you need to stay in, wearing your pjs, eating Nutella croissants or a pile of toast or a bowl of mashed potatoes, or whatever your go-to is, watching crappy tv, an old film, reading a good book or even just taking a nap. That’s A-OK.
After a week in which depression kicked my butt (again) I really need this hug in a box from The Blurt Foundation.
Designed specifically for depression sufferers, each box is filled with things to help you manage your condition and give you something to smile about.
As well as the goodies, there’s also a postcard written by the Blurt team.
As well as one for you to fill in and leave for someone else to find and pass on that love.
In my box this month are some really sweet things that made me smile while unboxing.
Clippers Mint Green Tea – I love mint tea, and green tea’s good for you too!
Toucan badge – my favourite Spike Milligan cartoon is the Strawberry Moose one but my second favourite is the One Can Toucan one (google them and grin) so this colourful badge is going on my bag to cheer me up.
Letters To My Future Self – a paper time capsule. This little book has themed envelopes and papers for you to write letters to your future self, so you can look back and see how things have changed.
Six Colour Pen – for writing those letters! I had one of these as a kid and loved changing the colours.
Cooling Panda Eye Pads – sometimes you need to cry it out and these soothing eye pads will reduce puffiness and made you look like a panda too! Pop them in the fridge and then on your face, for instant refreshment.
This is such a wonderful box of joy, and something I really needed this week.
I have dealt with depression and anxiety since my teens, and in the last few years struggled a lot.
My Mr suggested applying for PIP – which is a payment from the Government to help people with disabilities, mental health issues and long term illnesses afford all the extras that go along with their condition. It’s means tested and requires an interview in person.
I filled out about a million forms, submitted evidence in the form of a letter from my doctor and from the mental health centre at the hospital where I did CBT and psychotherapy.
My assessment interview was ‘near me’ in that it was in London, on the other side of town. Bizarrely it was done by a physiotherapist – obvious choice to assess someone with a mental health issue.
I was rejected on the basis I was able to walk – the application form and interview were very obsessed with mobility as a factor. Except that on my very worst days getting out of bed is impossible. So I can’t walk on those days, I can’t eat, sleep, talk, function at all.
It’s a really bizarre and completely illogical way of deciding whether or not to award someone the benefit of some money to assist in managing their condition. There are days when my anxiety is so bad I can’t use public transport so this money would have been useful to cover a cab to the doctor’s or hospital.
It affects my ability to work and manage the basic things, we’d discussed how having even a small amount would help cover costs when I’m too ill.
But no, a physiotherapist and the worst assessment ideas ever mean that I, like hundreds of others with all sorts of complex and exhausting conditions, are denied even the smallest assistance.
There are plenty of people for whom this is even more devastating – they need that money to survive. But more and more disabled and terminally ill people are being found “fit for work” by these assessments and stripped of their benefits. Never mind that there are no jobs for these people, that employers won’t employ people who need lots of flexibility to attend appointments.
Disabled workers take less sick leave than your average employee, as they feel they have to prove something, and it is illegal to discriminate, but it still happens. It’s just not given as the reason they didn’t get the job. Hidden conditions, invisible illnesses or disabilities, mental health conditions are even harder to prove discrimination against, and likely to receive less empathy.
My last full time permanent job ended because of a complete lack of understanding and support in my attempts to manage my health and continue working. Now I temp and the Mr covers much of our expenses while I look for something longer term.
I don’t expect the government to support me, I don’t intend to demand benefits and sit at home. I want to work, the stimulation and mental exercise of work is good for me. But a little extra to help out during the really bad days isn’t a lot to ask for.
This new system is so flawed that it’s already caused deaths, some people genuinely can’t work, and probably contributes to so many conditions worsening and costing the NHS more money to treat and manage.
It’s cruel and unfair and dangerous. The people behind it, many of them with zero medical knowledge, should be ashamed.
Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that about 18 months ago I had a breakdown, my depression and anxiety went into overdrive following an incident at my then job.
I spent most of the last year and a half on long term sick leave while I fought with myself and mental illness. I went to CBT and group therapy. Neither seemed to help.
I found the right medication with the help of some super dedicated doctors and started blogging as a means of getting outside of myself, even on days when getting out of bed was impossible.
Thursday was #timetotalk a nation wide initiative aimed at breaking the silence around mental health. It’s still taboo, treatment is patchy on the NHS and the media paints everyone with a mental health issue as a danger to the public.
We might be nuts but we’re mostly harmless. In fact people suffering from a mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than you. Which means they (we) need support and empathy all the more. Our own brains are against us. It can be absolutely terrifying when you’re at war with yourself.
I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me find some balance again. Please be aware that these do not replace the advice of your doctors/therapists etc. I am not an expert in the field and this is all based on my own personal experience of surviving two mental breakdowns in my life and battling depression and anxiety for over ten years.
Depression makes you unbelievably selfish. You just stop caring about anyone or anything else around you. Eventually you stop caring about yourself. You couldn’t care less if you never got out of bed again. You stop eating, washing, wear the same pyjamas for days on end. But sometimes you don’t have a choice.
We got Algernon and Justin last May, they’re part emotional support, you cannot be depressed around them, and part un-selfish device. They need to be fed, fussed over, talked to, cuddled and spoilt all the time. They were joined by three girl rats, sadly Peaches and Cream crossed the rainbow bridge but Custard still rules the rat house.
Pets force us to think about something outside of ourselves – I’m not saying go out and buy an animal to make yourself better, but for me, these little balls of fur have been such a great joy.
I can’t always articulate why I am having a bad day, depression steals my words and anxiety stops me from locating them. But books are always there. On the days when crawling into a novel was too hard, there were graphic novels/comics, poems and declaiming speeches from Shakespeare (I knew my degree would be useful one day). Other people’s words when mine failed.
Adult colouring books were huge in 2015, and I was there, scribbling away, mostly mandalas, but finding the edge taken off my anxiety by the repetitive nature of the activity and the colours. No wonder little kids seem so happy when they colour in.
Blogging helped me immensely, it distracted me from the war in my head. Same with Instagram and twitter, though I had to step away from Facebook and its barely controlled anger, I explored more of the things I enjoy, finding my way back to me.
Going back to work, just not that work. I tried to go back to my old job, I’d been there five years, but there was no support, I was treated like I’d been off with the flu, not a serious illness. So I left again, this time for good. The relief was amazing. Then I started temping, and while I now know that’s not for me, it gave me back a lot of confidence.
Finding the funny – above is what should have been chocolate chip cookies, I honestly have no idea what happened, but instead of panicking about how I’d messed up, I took a photo, sent it to my best friend and reminded her of previous baking fails. Then I laughed, proper deep belly laughs. Because life is ridiculous and none of us are getting out alive.
Lean on others – I’ve been really lucky, the Mr has been the most amazing support. And I know it hasn’t been easy for him. Lean on the people who love you, whether it’s a friend, family member, your mum, partner or Samaritan. Let them take the strain for a moment, don’t be afraid of letting others in.
Asking for help is probably the hardest thing you can do. But it is also the most liberating. We fight our monsters in silence, but it is OK to say “I can’t do this anymore” and ask for help. I cried in my doctor’s office as I finally admitted I couldn’t cope and needed help. I am so glad I did. I’m honestly not sure if I would be here now if I hadn’t.